To tell intimate stories is to whisper in the ear, to reach for the hand, to enter the palace of memory and with wonder and longing recall feelings placed in its halls. To tell intimate stories is to wander spaced-out and at-home through the intricate architecture of the heart, made of walls and openings just as a house is. To tell intimate stories is to sink deeply into other lives and times, and to be unforgettably present.
(from ‘Other Lives and Times’ ~ an immersive performance work in progress, by Deidre Matthee & Ines de Carvalho)
It’s the last stubborn days of summer, the sun emptying itself into long afternoons while it still can. The early signs of fall are here too, in the snuffed out misty mornings, the first brave, reckless leaves twisting away from the trees, and the days shrinking faster into darkness in spite of themselves. It is September, and it is back to school, back to work and back to begin again. But to me, the timing seems off: how can we briskly return to business, when all around everything (days, leaves, fog) stretches and collapses like a yawn? A contrary rhythm or am I the one out of step, always trailing two seasons at once…?
“The vygies will be in bloom soon,” my mother tells me on the phone. And I can see her precisely there: standing in the garden path that leads up to our house. And I know we are both picturing the sharp, bright petals, a spectacle of pointy stars exploding in colour. I close my eyes and try to imagine the scent of jasmine. And suddenly the season falls into place: September will always be Spring.
friends come to visit
i hold up a looking glass to the city
i can not find the perfect angle
i’ve always thought it moody
invicta, stubborn and unwieldy
it does as it pleases
like the cats resting
on the window sills
of its aging buildings
there are moments
the city brushes up against you
weaves around your legs
a soft surprise
and these days
it spins and purrs
all done up
though unfamiliar with
all the paint and gloss
(a memory: years ago, after i first arrived, in a cafe
watching an old lady putting on the brightest pink lipstick
…tracing and retracing the feint curve of her mouth – i was mesmerized)
i hold up a looking glass to the city
but i’m no longer sure of my reflections
I go to the post office often, at least five or six times per month to send things home. Packages that are fragile, regardless of their content: carrying a little bit of myself there, something tangible to substitute my absence. After seven years, I know the faces of most of the postal workers in my neighbourhood post offices intimately. I wonder if they know mine by now – surely they should, but there is rarely a register of familiarity in the way they engage with me, a estrangeira…
At first I used to dread going to the post office by myself, awkward with the weight of emotional baggage, my parceled longing, the coded messages reaching out on Western Union forms… And then there was the additional burden of trying to make myself understandable (I seemed to have a mental block against remembering the Portuguese word for “a form”). Sometimes they’d have a laugh at my clumsy Portuguese; sometimes I would be close to tears with frustration at a package lost; a glitch in the system; a broken connection.
But now I know their faces; I am familiar with the form(s). Still I wonder if they know how much is at stake, how I rely on them, the ones on the other side of the counter, mediating between this world and another.
I have recently read “A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary For Lovers” by Xiaolu Guo, a sensitive and beautiful account of the intimacies of language and migration. I highly recommend it, especially if you are also trying to trace those untranslatable feelings under the skin of words.
*Any books that resonate with your experience of migration? Do share!
*Ps I am (supposed to be) studying for my Portuguese final exam…!
Last night in my Portuguese class, our teacher asked us whether we would like to contribute to the next issue of the school newspaper, which would be themed “Multiculturalism”. The idea was to share the story of our migration experience. “Before and after, what it is like living in a new country, how it is different from your home countries,” she explained, making it sound quite simple, nothing complicated, and, she pointed out, it would be a good opportunity to work on our Portuguese essay writing skills…
Then, to practise our listening skills, the teacher read an interview with a young Ukrainian immigrant, recounting his story to a journalist. We listened carefully, in order to respond to the exercise questions (What happened to Igor’s father?; Why did his mother come to Portugal?; Why did Igor decide to come to Portugal?; Why is it difficult for him to renew his residence permit?; Does Igor consider returning to Ukraine?). We answered these questions swiftly, as Igor’s responses to the journalist’s questions were short and clear: Igor’s father was killed in an accident while working in Portugal; his mother had to come here to repay his father’s debts; Igor came to be with his mother; he could not yet obtain a formal work contract; and he preferred to stay in Portugal. It was nothing complicated.